Lot 4
  • 4

Auguste Rodin

400,000 - 600,000 EUR
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  • Auguste Rodin
  • Iris messagère des dieux, étude sans tête, petit modèle
  • signed A. Rodin
  • bronze
  • height: 41 cm; 16 1/8 in.


Musée Rodin, Paris
Maurice and Florence Ghiglion, Cannes (acquired from the above in June 1946)
Private collection, France


Georges Grappe, Catalogue du Musée Rodin, Paris, 1927, no. 171, illustration of another cast p. 68
Albert Sigogneau, "Le tourment de Rodin," L'Amour de l'art, Paris, December 1935, illustration of another cast p. 379
Georges Grappe, Catalogue du Musée Rodin, Paris, 1944, no. 248, illustration of another cast p. 85
Marcel Aubert, Rodin Sculptures, Paris, 1952, illustration of another cast p. 50
Albert E. Elsen, Rodin, New York, 1963, illustration of another cast p. 185
Ionel Jianou and Cécile Goldscheider, Auguste Rodin, Paris, 1967, illustration of another cast pl. 77
Robert Descharnes and Jean-François Chabrun, Auguste Rodin, Paris, 1967, illustration of the terracotta p. 249
Homage to Rodin: Collection of B. Gerald Cantor (exhibition catalogue), Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1967, no. 38, illustration of another cast p. 66
Rodin (exhibition catalogue), The Hayward Gallery, London, 1970, no. 72, illustrations of another cast pp. 68 and 74
John L. Tancock, The Sculpture of Auguste Rodin, Philadelphia, 1976, illustrations of another cast pp. 290-92
Albert E. Elsen, In Rodin's Studio, A Photographic Record of Sculpture in the Making, Ithaca, 1980, illustration of the plaster pl. 95
Albert E. Elsen (ed.), Rodin Rediscovered, Washington, D.C., 1981, illustration of another cast p. 111
Albert E. Elsen, Auguste Rodin from the B.G. Cantor Sculpture Garden, New York, 1981, illustration of another cast p. 35
Hélène Pinet, Rodin Sculpteur et Les Photographes de son temps, Paris, 1985, no. 57, illustration of another cast p. 69
Catherine Lampert, Rodin Sculpture and Drawings, London, 1986, no. 141, illustration of the smaller version p. 221; no. 144, illustrations of another cast pls. 206-07
Jane Mayo Roos, "Rodin's Monument to Victor Hugo: Art and Politics in the Third Republic," in The Art Bulletin, New York, December 1986, fig. 24 illustration of another cast p. 655
Joan Vita Miller and Gary Marotta, Rodin, The B. Gerald Cantor Collection (exhibition catalogue), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1986, no. 60, illustrations of another cast pp. 132 and 138
Bernard Champigneulle, Rodin, Paris, 1989, illustration of another cast p. 105
Mary L. Levkoff, Rodin in His Time, Los Angeles and New York, 1994, no. 43, illustration of another cast p. 137
Ruth Butler, La solitude du génie, Paris, 1998, no. 138, illustration of another cast p. 187
Antoinette Le Normand-Romain, The Bronzes of Rodin, Catalogue of Works in the Musée Rodin, vol. II, Paris, 2007, pp. 452-55, another cast illustrated fig.1 p. 454


A professional condition report is available upon request.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note


Suspended in mid-air, this image of the female body is one of Rodin's most daring sculptures, both in its defiance of gravity and in the frankness of its sexuality. The figure was originally conceived in connection with his second project for the Victor Hugo Monument. The figure would have hovered above the seated figure of Hugo, suggesting that Glory crowned his great achievements as a poet. In 1894,  she was enlarged by Alexis Rudier, head and left arm were eliminated from the composition, turned the right way up, and exhibited independently. Celebrated for its expressiveness, Iris prompted many admiring reviews, including that of the poet Arthur Symons: 'All the force of the muscle palpitates in this strenuous flesh, the whole splendour of her sex, unveiled, palpitates in the air, the messenger of the gods, bringing some divine message, pauses in flight, an embodied inspiration' (A. Symons, quoted in Rodin (exhibition catalogue), Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2007, p. 257).

The flagrantly explicit composition and central focus on the female anatomy recalls Gustave Courbet's infamous painting L'Origine du monde. Though the painting was still in private hands in the late nineteenth century, a few well-connected intellectuals knew the work. Edmond de Goncourt, a friend of Rodin's, is known to have seen it in the summer of 1889, and could well have introduced the artist to it himself. Rodin drew voluminous quantities of nudes in unconventional poses, often highly erotic ones, and it is perhaps these studies that prompted the exceptional arrangement of the Iris. The original pose must have been made lying down, but Rodin's radical reorientation elevates the subject and its impact on the viewer.  It is quite possible that Rodin was also influenced by the new and unconventional forms of dance that were all the rage in the Cabaret's of Montmartre. The famous Moulin Rouge opened on October 5th 1889 and Rodin no doubt had access to these new and highly sexualised spectacles which would eventually develop into the French Can Can. Rodin's archives contains articles published in the Gil Blas featuring notorious contemporary dancers such as Grille d'Egout. The similarities between Iris and the pose of infamous dancers such a Lili jambes-en-l'air is striking.      

Iris, to this day stand outs as an exceedingly modern sculpture that could easily find its place among the most contemporary bronzes produced today.



Fig. 1 Autre fonte d'Iris, Messagère des dieux devant La Porte de l'Enfer, 1891, photographie Druet
Lili jambes-en-l'air
, photographe anonyme.